In AMERICAN FIGHTER, the year is 1981, and Ali has just started college at Northeast California University. He's an Iranian American whose parents are trying to get out of Iran, but while they're on a plane bound for America, terrorists board the plane, take Ali's father off the plane, and then kill him. Ali's mother remains stuck in Tehran, deathly ill from cancer. Ali finds a man who can help get his mother out of Iran, but the price to do so is considerably more than Ali can afford, even after he sells his muscle car and other prized possessions. His roommate Ryan, after watching Ali punch out a racist rival at wrestling practice, suggests that Ali gets into the world of underground fighting as a way to make the money. Ryan takes Ali to an abandoned warehouse where the fighting takes place, and introduces him to McClellen (Tommy Flanagan), the promoter. After an unpleasant introduction, Ali soon proves how strong of a fighter he is, and soon starts raising the money he needs to get his mom out of Tehran. McClellen seems to like Ali, giving him the nickname "The Young Lion," and then offers to give Ali his shot at the big time by taking on Bas, one of the very best fighters in this league, for all the money he has made so far. However, Duke (Sean Patrick Flanery), the alcoholic trainer who tries to give Ali advice after the matches, warns Ali not to do it, as he doesn't have the fighting chops to win. Ali has become too cocky to heed Duke's advice, and Bas handily defeats him, leaving Ali back where he started, and feeling used and ripped off by McClellen. Ali soon flies into a drunken rage and has plans of killing McClellen, but Duke stops him, and offers to teach him everything he knows as a former champion underground fighter. He also sets up a rematch of Ali versus Duke. Now, Ali must decide if he can put his ego and check, listen to Duke, and train as hard as he can to try and win back the money he has earned, and get his mother out of Iran.